(Photo: Reuters/Eric Thayer)
Rick Perry said he is putting conservatives ahead of himself in his Thursday decision to drop out of the GOP race and endorse fellow candidate Newt Gingrich as the party’s anti-Romney.
Perry highlighted his experience as a fighter pilot and told the crowd he knows what it means to stay focused on the mission.
“I know when it is time to make a strategic retreat. I will leave the trail, return to Texas and lay down my 2012 campaign,” he announced at an 11 a.m. press conference in Charleston, South Carolina. He had a few aides and a visibly-dejected Anita Perry at his side during the announcement.
Although he suspended his campaign, Perry made it clear that he is not “done fighting for conservatism.”
He said Republicans must not only beat President Barack Obama in the 2012 election, but they must put a true conservative in the White House. The statement was an obvious dig at frontrunner Mitt Romney, who conservatives consider a moderate flip-flopper.
With that statement, Perry then endorsed Gingrich, not evangelical-backed candidate Rick Santorum, ahead of the all-important South Carolina primary on Saturday.
“I have no question that Newt Gingrich has the heart of a conservative reformer,” said Perry.
In a statement recognizing Gingrich’s personal baggage and reports that ex-wife Marianne Gingrich plans to go public about the affair and resulting divorce, Perry said, “Newt is not perfect, but who among us is. The fact is there is forgiveness for those who seek God. And I believe in the power of redemption for it is a central tenet of my Christian faith.”
Perry’s early exit is no surprise to those following his campaign.
The Texas governor led the Republican nominee race by over 30 percent in national polls after he announced his candidacy in the summer of 2011. However, that lead dropped after Perry experienced a number of embarrassing gaffes during televised debates and interviews.
Perry placed a miserable fifth in the Iowa caucus despite touting his large campaign donation war chest and strong evangelical pedigree.
After the Iowa caucus, Perry announced that he was returning to Texas to re-evaluate his involvement in the race. Many believed that like former candidate Michele Bachmann, Perry would end his campaign, but news reports suggest that wife Anita encouraged him to stay in the race.
Perry did worse in the New Hampshire placing sixth with less than 1 percent of the primary vote. He in fact skipped New Hampshire to focus on the largely Christian, conservative state of South Carolina.
However, local polls show him languishing behind Santorum and Ron Paul. Evangelical leaders meeting in Texas last weekend also passed over Perry in favor of Santorum to support.
Clemson University religion and politics professor Laura Olson surmised in a Jan. 11 Christian Post interview, "It’s highly unlikely that he’s (Perry) going to come in [South Carolina] and win or even come in the top three or four."
Though the Texas governor has had a tough go at the Republican nomination, Perry said he is leaving his campaign “with pride.”
In his acceptance of Perry’s endorsement, Gingrich announced that the Texas governor has agreed to head up a 10th Amendment taskforce to protect state rights. No doubt Perry will also be using his evangelical clout to make the argument for Gingrich as the 2012 GOP nominee.